|HQ-505, the only ship not sunk in the battle, was beached on Co Lin Reef by its captain after catching fire during the battle. It became a sovereignty landmark of Việt Nam, and Co Lin Reef was protected from the enemy’s attack. The State praised HQ-505 as a Hero of the People's Armed Forces for the glorious victory. File Photo VNA|
HÀ NỘI — It’s been 35 years, but Lê Văn Thoa still remembers every single detail of that fateful morning on Gạc Ma reef on March 14, 1988.
Thoa, who joined the national army when he turned 17, became a non-commissioned officer of Squadron 1, Navy Brigade 125, which was based at Tân Cảng, HCMC City. He was tasked with repairing machinery on ship HQ 602.
In early 1988, Thoa was transferred to ship HQ 604, on duty in the Spratly Islands.
"On the morning of March 14, the enemy troops used aluminium boats to land their marines before aggressively attacking our soldiers to seize the reef," Thoa said. The captain of HQ 604 Vũ Phi Trừ ordered the unit to be ready to fight.
"The enemy was strong, and our soldiers were pushed back near the Vietnamese flag on the island.
“We created a circle around the flag and were determined to protect it,” Thoa said.
But then the enemy troop rushed to the island with their weapons, and shot at the ship.
“I tried to put the fire out on the ship but I was injured when machine oil spilt over," Thoa said. "The ship was shot at many spots and gradually sank. I had to jump out. I was floating on the sea for almost a day before being captured by the enemy.”
Thoa was only able to return home more than three years later.
He was presented with a Feat Order by the State Council and Glorious Soldier Medal and now is living in Quy Nhơn City of Bình Định Province.
Major Trần Văn Hồng of Squadron 202, High Command of Coast Guard Region 1, is the younger brother of Trần Văn Phương, one of the 64 soldiers who died in the Gạc Ma Battle in 1988.
Hồng is serving at the Cửa Việt Port in Quảng Trị Province, and his unit is in charge of the area from Cồn Cỏ Island, Quảng Trị Province, to the Cù Lao Xanh island, the whole of the Paracel Island and the north part of the Spratly Island.
That is where his brother fell while fighting to protect the country’s territory.
Hồng said after learning about the death of his brother, he decided to write a letter asking to join the army and follow his brother's spirit. He was accepted and started his serving in early 1989 at Brigade 146, Naval Region 4, his brother’s former unit.
When Phương died, he was buried on the Sinh Tồn Đông (Grierson Reef). Not until 1992 that he was brought back to the land.
Hồng had served in his unit for 30 years and continued to protect the Fatherland when the war ended.
On the Coast Guard ship 2012, Major Hồng and his comrades participated in the fight to prevent crime in the southwestern waters of the country.
Then in 2014, the Coast Guard ship 2012 participated in law enforcement, preventing the HD 981 oil rig from illegally operating on Việt Nam's continental shelf.
Currently, he and his units are actively disseminating the law on combating illegal, undeclared and unregulated (IUU) fishing to fishermen in the area.
To him, protecting the country’s sea and islands is not only the love for the motherland but also the duty of a soldier of the Vietnamese People's Navy, the responsibility of every Vietnamese citizen to preserve and protect the sacred sovereignty of the sea and islands of the country.
The Gạc Ma battle in 1988 was to safeguard the country’s island territory over the reefs of Gạc Ma (Johnson South), Cô Lin (Collins), and Len Đao (Lansdowne) in Việt Nam’s Trường Sa (Spratly) archipelago against China’s forces. VNS